Friends of Ross Miller using anti-free speech state law to try to gag opposition group

Some pals of Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller, son of former Gov. Bob Miller, are trying to gag of a Republican-leaning group airing an ad on TV and the Internet ridiculing Miller for taking $60,000 in gifts while in office — living the high life, as they put it.

State Government Leadership Foundation is the group running the ad and a website called millershouseofcards.com.

Nevadans for a Brighter Future filed a complaint with the Secretary of State’s Election Division — which will doubtlessly kick it to the attorney general due a rather obvious conflict of interest — claiming SGLF is violating NRS294A, a state law to demands anyone spending money on a candidate, election or issue register as a political action committee with the Secretary of State and file reports detailing spending and donations.

The gifts outlined in the ad include free tickets to UFC fights, shows on the Strip and a Beverly Hills conference, according the Las Vegas newspaper.

Ross Miller

“Fancy parties, exclusive sporting events. Posing with celebrities — even Playmates,” the ad says, while showing photos of Miller with Mike Tyson andHolly Madison. “Ah, one can dream, but for politician Ross Miller it’s reality.”

The ad concludes, “He lives the life. You pay the tab. Tell Ross Miller to stop living the high life at your expense.”

SGLF says it is spending $500,000 to air the ad.

Though Miller is running for attorney general against Republican Adam Laxalt, grandson of former Gov. and U.S. Sen. Paul Laxalt, the ad never mentions the race.

In his complaint letter attorney Matt Griffin says, “SGLF is identified as the party responsible for paying for the advertisement. The content and subject matter of the advertisement constitute ‘express advocacy’ under Nevada law. As such, the funds expended to produce and disseminate the advertisement are ‘expenditures’ under Nevada law.”

He goes to say that each time SGLF engages in any political activity it is breaking the law and it must be forced to follow the law.

Actually, this is the second time friends of Miller have tried to gag the out of state group. Earlier a Jim Lamb on behalf of Miller’s campaign wrote television station managers demanding the SGLF ads be pulled from the air because the ads falsely said taxpayers were the source of aforementioned gifts.

SGLF sent a letter in response to the TV stations. “The whole point of the ad, which is abundantly clear to anyone who sees it, is that Ross Miller has lived a lavish lifestyle while serving as Secretary of State,” the letter reads. “Mr. Lamb does not dispute any of this — he certainly does not dispute that Ross Miller took these gifts, nor can he dispute that Nevada’s taxpayers pay Ross Miller’s six-figure salary. Left unsaid, because the cannot dispute this either, is that Ross Miller received these gifts from special interests because of his taxpayer-funded position as Secretary of State. The facts are clear: Nevada’s taxpayers are paying for Ross Miller to be Secretary of State, and he is using that position to live the high life.”

The concludes by urging the stations to not be “badgered into protecting Ross Miller from the truth.”

But the complaint claims the ad constitutes “express advocacy,” which is prohibited under the law unless you register and file financial disclosure reports. The ad doesn’t even mention that Miller is standing for election, much less expressly advocate for or against his election.

A similar complaint was tossed out of court a couple of years ago because it was found the communication in question was not “express advocacy.”

Carson City Senor District Judge Robert Estes found the Secretary of State’s case against Americans for Prosperity lacking because the statute applies only to those spending money “on behalf” of a candidate.

Americans for Prosperity — funded by Harry Reid’s favorite conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch — sent out mailers in 2012 during the election campaign of Kelvin Atkinson for state Senate. Those mailers criticized Atkinson for co-sponsoring a 2011 renewable energy bill. But the mailers never mentioned his candidacy.

Of course, that is merely a technicality. The real concern should be that this law is palpably unconstitutional. The First Amendment prohibits abridgement of free speech and the 14th Amendment extends that prohibition to states. Requiring registration and reporting of donors and spending abridges free speech. Period.

And the one thing the First Amendment is clearly intended to protect is “express advocacy.”

In the Supreme Court case Citizens United, the court held that groups, corporations and unions may not be singled out and barred from spending their own money in support of or opposition to a candidate or a cause.
Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in a concurrence: “The (First) Amendment is written in terms of ‘speech,’ not speakers. Its text offers no foothold for excluding any category of speaker, from single individuals to partnerships of individuals, to unincorporated associations of individuals, to incorporated associations of individuals — and the dissent offers no evidence about the original meaning of the text to support any such exclusion. We are therefore simply left with the question whether the speech at issue in this case is ‘speech’ covered by the First Amendment. No one says otherwise.”

But in an inexplicable self-contradiction, the ruling let stand reporting and disclosure requirements similar to those in Nevada law. How can you remain anonymous if you must disclose?

But Justice Clarence Thomas, in a partial dissent, chided his comrades for this duplicity: “The disclosure, disclaimer, and reporting requirements in (the law) are also unconstitutional. … “Congress may not abridge the ‘right to anonymous speech’ based on the ‘simple interest in providing voters with additional relevant information …’”

But judges in Nevada have concocted a strange interpretation of the First Amendment. Carson City Judge James Wilson, while a Virginia-based for airing ads applauding Gov. Brian Sandoval, wrote: “Irreparable harm will occur to the voters and to the electoral process if broadcasting of the Ad is not enjoined, because voters are being deprived of the information to which they are entitled under Nevada law prior to casting their ballots,” namely, who donated the money to air the ads.

Never mind that Ben Franklin and other Founders often wrote under pseudonyms, that “Common Sense” was first published anonymously, that the Federalist Papers and the Anti-Federalist Papers were published under pseudonyms or that John Locke published his works anonymously.

The concept that Nevadans must not be deprived of certain identifying information is not even in the penumbra of the Constitution.

Free speech is a right, not a privilege that requires a permit or disclosure of donors. The entire Nevada law should be repealed or declared unconstitutional.

3 comments on “Friends of Ross Miller using anti-free speech state law to try to gag opposition group

  1. Winston Smith says:

    Like it or not, with power comes money. Reduce governmental powers back to the borders our Founders envisioned, and most of the money naturally goes away.

    WiP; FiS; IiS

  2. […] Friends of Ross Miller using anti-free speech state law to try to gag opposition group Mar22 by Thom… Some pals of Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller, son of former Gov. Bob Miller, are trying to gag of a Republican-leaning group airing an ad on TV and the Internet ridiculing Miller for taking $60,000 in gifts while in office — living the high life, as they put it. […]

  3. Victor says:

    Great write-up Mitchell.

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